Volume 17, Number 47 -- December 8, 2008

IBM's Academic Initiative Partners with DeVry University

Published: December 8, 2008

by Dan Burger

With more than 65,000 students enrolled at nearly 100 locations in 26 states and Canada, DeVry University qualifies as one of the largest degree-granting higher education institutions in North America. So, for IBM to get its Academic Initiative program plugged into DeVry, there is reason to celebrate. Beginning in March 2009, students aiming for bachelor's degrees in computer information systems have the option of taking enterprise business computing courses that will incorporate IBM i, AIX, and z/OS coursework.

DeVry University is the first educational institution to incorporate multiple IBM Systems technologies into a single degree program track. As is the goal of the Academic Initiative program, this new track has been designed to meet the current and future demands of IBM clients and business partners, many of which are concerned about a shortage of skilled professionals that stems primarily from an aging--and soon-to-be-retiring--workforce.

David Pauldine, president of DeVry University, sees the skills gap as an opportunity for students to prepare for a job market that is hungry for young talent. In recent years, information technology has not been a fertile field for just out of college employment opportunities. Pauldine and others in the business of educating young adults think this is about to change for the better.

"For DeVry University, the relationship with IBM enables us to continue to revitalize interest in technology careers by leveraging IBM's assets and providing a career path for our graduates," Pauldine said in a statement announcing the partnership with IBM. "Within the next five to seven years, baby boomers will begin retiring and DeVry University can help fill the pipeline with a pool of qualified applicants for IBM, its customers, and business partners. Our students will be educated on IBM's technology that currently runs the world's top 50 banks and 22 of the 25 top U.S. retailers. Through this practical education in enterprise computing, DeVry University's graduates will be set apart from other computer science graduates."

DeVry has not been using IBM technologies in its classrooms in recent years.

The enterprise computing track that will be introduced next spring is one of several educational tracks available to student in the Computer Information Systems bachelor's degree program. The other tracks are: business management; computer forensics; database management; enterprise computing; health information systems; information systems security; systems analysis and integration; Web development and administration; and Web game programming.

DeVry is developing four new courses and enhancing four existing courses to include IBM systems technologies that apply to Power Systems and mainframe environments. The Academic Initiative team has been working with DeVry's course developers by providing IBM education and connecting them with subject matter experts as they develop classroom content and hands-on labs.

DeVry will be plugged into a large Power Systems hub that is specifically managed for the university. The hub will be the direct connection used for teaching IBM Power Systems and mainframe environments. It allows DeVry access to high-end enterprise hardware without the overhead of buying and maintaining systems.

The first course to added to the DeVry curriculum is an introduction to architecture and operations that covers IBM i, z/OS, and AIX. According to Linda Grigoleit, the Academic Initiative program manager for the IBM i, the course is intentionally designed as an introduction rather than being a complete immersion in the topic.

"Our clients have said they don't expect a student to come out as an RPG IV expert," Grigoleit said. "They want students exposed to specific technologies, but also exposed to the business side during their education. The companies will add further training after hiring. We've been doing roundtables [with IBM customers and business partners] since September 2007--much of this curriculum is based on what we heard during those discussions. The requirements were very similar. Some distinctions based on whether the clients tended to be large enterprise or SMB. These courses were built with that in mind."

The complete listing of courses that will become the enterprise computing track at DeVry is still a work in progress. Grigoleit said it will include instruction in advanced database management; application development classes using RPG and COBOL; Web application development, using WebSphere, PHP, and Java; systems programming; systems analysis and design, with an introduction to service oriented architecture using Rational development tools; and object-oriented analysis and design. The enterprise computing classes will only use IBM Rational tools and DB2 databases.

"This enterprise computing track is the start of our working relationship," Grigoleit said. "We'll see where it takes us, but DeVry is open to working with us and with our clients and partners."

Grigoleit and the Academic Initiative group has introduced about a dozen of DeVry's location deans--those responsible for establishing curriculum at individual university sites--to their individual business community that is connected to both Power Systems and System z. She expects curriculum development at each location to be influenced a great deal on the requirements established by potential employers.

As DeVry gets feedback from IBM customers and partners about jobs in a particular region, the university will consider offering an educational track that will provide students at a nearby campus with skills to fill those positions.

It's in the best interest of DeVry students to have a curriculum that meets the expectations of the enterprise IT job market, and Grigoleit believes the partnership between the university and the local System i users assures that the pipeline of talent is matched to demand. In a way, it's like supply change management. Additional classes and educational tracks will be determined by demand. DeVry is still determining which of its locations will be hosting the enterprise computing classes in their classrooms.

It's yet to be determined whether DeVry will make "localized" courses available through its online curriculum.

"We haven't gotten there yet," Grigoleit said. "If we see that additional requirements--such as the industry niche kinds of education--exist, I think it will be looked at as long as there are employment opportunities for students who obtain those specific skills."

Examples of how this industry niche-based curriculum might work is purely hypothetical, but let's say the gaming industry in Las Vegas helped shape an educational track based on its demand for graduates. If those courses were available online to all DeVry students, they would be able to compete for those Las Vegas jobs. It could open doors for those willing to relocate, and it deepens the talent pool for the gaming and hospitality organizations searching for new hires.

"The IBM Academic Initiative was established to address the need for maintaining a vibrant workforce and attracting new talent," said Terry Patane, director of IS recruiting at Costco Wholesale. "This approach creates a win-win-win relationship between IBM, key clients, and forward-thinking colleges and universities. Costco's recent teaming with IBM to host the Academic Initiative roundtable for DeVry University has opened new opportunities for Costco recruiting resulting in what we hope becomes a mutually beneficial relationship."

The idea of academic networks integrating a business community and an educational institution is backed by Ross Mauri, general manager, IBM Power Systems. Mauri believes IBM's clients and business partners are "always looking for college graduates who are educated in enterprise systems concepts and technologies." In the case of DeVry University, he says the enterprise computing courses that are being refined "will help students develop skills unique to scalable midrange and mainframe platforms. As an added feature, students will apply that knowledge by using IBM technology through the use of supported labs, case studies, and design projects."

It sounds like Mauri might be dropping some hints that he's interested in a teaching position--possibly a class in business continuity.


Power Systems Adds New Choices for IBM's Academic Initiative

Is An IT Career Looking Better for Students?

i5/OS Curriculum Contingent on Job Prospects, Business Community

Academic Initiative Attempts to Unite Business and Education

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